The Conversion Factor

Harvard Supplement Essay

“I HATE science.”

Poor, unsuspecting Mrs. Lato. When she cheerily asked us to jot down our interests in science, I penned my sentence of outright rejection. This eleven-year-old clearly did not share the passion of my new science teacher.

Now, had she asked us about magic, my response would have been quite different. How I longed to be Harry Potter, immersed in the exciting world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry! Instead, I sat doodling at St. Rose of Lima Academy, where science usually consisted of answering mundane questions at the end of each chapter.

Despite my desire to tell a dramatic story, I have to admit my transformation from “science-phobe” to “science-phile” was not a theatrical event; it was more of a gradual progression. After all, someone who is of Greek and Irish lineage is not so easily swayed. From the start, Mrs. Lato’s questions intrigued me: Which substance could turn a flame bright green? What did dissecting an earthworm reveal about the chemistry of life? How could your team extract pure water from a jar of dirt? A puzzle, a mystery, an enticement to explore —science with Mrs. Lato meant a journey to the unknown.

If Harry had his Nimbus 2000 broomstick, courtesy of Minerva McGonagall, I had...

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